The other day I said to you: ‘You could have brought the empty bottle down,’ rolling my eyes to enunciate my meaning.
But what I really meant to say was thank you. Thank you for generously commandeering the bedtime routine each night, staying beside our girl until she is suitably sleepy and amenable to snoozing. Thank you for being the one to always see her off on her night time journey to sleep, leaving me free, for a while, to just sit. And rest. And breathe. Or even perhaps fall upon a glass of wine, welcome at the end of yet another frantic, full day. And in the face of teething grumpiness or temporary bouts of insomnia or sheer defiance towards imminent and unwanted slumber, you keep the faith, with no demands for help, allowing me my momentary peace.
And when I said to you: ‘You spilt the Calpol on the floor’ what I was really saying was thank you. Thank you for always being the one to do the parenting jobs I struggle with. Delicately and carefully trimming her nails, my inability due to my nervousness which transpires in a shaky grip. Getting her to take her medicine, even though this is the antithesis of what she wants to do, her furious screams ringing out around the room so no-one is left in any confusion as to her feelings on the matter. And holding her whilst she has her jabs, your kind words soothing to both daughter and upset mother.
You might have heard an annoyed: ‘For goodness sake. Tidy some of those toys away,’ but what you probably didn’t hear was: ‘This is one of my favourite sights’. You two playing together, you pouring pretend tea into plastic cups, your sipping as enthusiastic as if it was the real thing. Or pretending to be the Gruffalo, eliciting great screams of delight from our happy toddler. And you probably didn’t hear me say that I could just stay here, watching you two, forever.
And that time I said: ‘Don’t forget her scarf’ what I meant to say was I think it’s so sweet. The way our little girl holds your hand whilst you point out the wonders of nature to her, like the leaves on the ground or the bud of a flower, as if you were out for a ramble in the country rather than a wander around our garden. I forgot to tell you that it makes my heart sing, the way in which you patiently reflect our daughter’s interest with your own ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ at the sight of nothing more than a wilting weed.
You see, these things that I’ve meant to say have gotten lost somehow, prevented from being vocalised by the more practical words which have taken priority through necessity. The remarks, the reminders, the comments I needed to make, have taken precedence, pushing away the thoughts that were in my head which I really wanted to say.
But these things I haven’t said, I hope that I have conveyed them to you in an intangible way by a look or a smile or the invisible bond which tethers us together. The bond that is like a rudder, keeping me safe, supporting me; through it I feel your care and affection, which doesn’t need words to quantify. It’s this which I have felt acutely over the last 18 months as I have grown into my new role as mother.
And when I say to you: ‘She looks like you when she eats’ what I really mean to say is thank you. Thank you for this gift, this girl, who sometimes looks like you and sometimes looks like me but mostly is all, wonderful her. And through this beautiful gift, thank you for introducing to me this amazing version of you, the role you were born for: as her father.